ANTICIPATING IMPACT

Defensive end Marcus Howard, a fifth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, had 1.5 sacks as a rookie, and said he hopes to improve that in his second season. Asked his plan for improving Howard said, "pretty much just hard work and repetition...

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Colts Second-Year DE Marcus Howard Anticipating Impact in Second Season

INDIANAPOLIS – Marcus Howard has heard it often.

And he hasn't just heard it from people around the Colts – although he certainly has heard it around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center – but he has heard it, too, from others around the NFL.

Friends. Coaches. Former college teammates.

What Howard, a second-year defensive end from the University of Georgia, has heard from pretty much everyone is what a lot of NFL rookies hear after they are no longer rookies: that most players show huge improvement between their first and second NFL seasons.

What Howard wants now is to do more than just hear those things.

He wants to prove that in his case, the words are right.

"I'm looking forward to seeing that," Howard said recently during the Colts' offseason conditioning program. "You hear it everywhere around the NFL, so hopefully it will be true for me. I just want to make a big impact around the team this year.

"My focus is working on the little things, just getting bigger and stronger and basically staying healthy. I think that really set me back last year, during the offseason, so I'm just trying to stay healthy and learn the playbook as best I can."

Howard, a fifth-round selection by the Colts in the 2008 NFL Draft, didn't make the impact he said he wanted defensively last year, instead getting most of his time on special teams.

After being inactive the first five games, he played in nine of the last 11 regular-season games, finishing the season with eight special teams tackles and making big plays during the time he played defensively.

Howard finished the season with 1.5 sacks and three quarterback pressures.

He also had seven tackles on defense, with each of his sacks and five tackles coming in a 23-0 season-ending victory over Tennessee that he said gave him confidence entering the offseason.

"Whenever I got my opunity, I think I made the most out of it," Howard said. "After sitting a lot last year, it made me realize that I can play in this league and at a high level when given the opportunity. That's what I'm hoping to see this year.

"I have a lot of confidence. I just want to go out there and hopefully, if I'm given the opportunity, just do what I can do. I always have confidence, but when I got the opportunity to play and I succeeded just a little bit, I think that will help me take this next step for this upcoming year."

Howard, who had 10.5 of his 12 career sacks at Georgia as a senior, said while he learned much while in college, it was nothing compared to what he learned last season. He long had been a fan of Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, particularly Mathis because of the similarity in size (Mathis is 6-feet-2, 245 pounds; Howard is 6-0, 237).

Asked recently what he learned from the duo, Howard smiled.

"I smile because they're great players," he said. "In my eyes, they're two of the best passrushers in the NFL and I just feel if I can be half as good as them this upcoming year, that will be a great year for me."

Howard said Mathis has spoken to him about what it takes to contribute in the NFL.

"Pretty much just hard work and repetition," Howard said. "Just practicing your craft, and keep on doing that. I wish I knew in college what I know now. I would have been a higher draft pick – just the little things I've learned from the coaches and the higher-level players."

Howard said he and Mathis have developed a relationship in his first year, with Mathis inviting him to his his home in Alabama to work out in the offseason.

"It felt real good, because that's the guy I really try to model my game after," Howard said. "We're pretty similar physically, so I feel if I can be effective like he is, I'd be an OK player."

The relationship has developed to the point Howard can joke with the Pro Bowl defensive end about sacks totals – rookie sacks totals, anyway. Mathis had three as a rookie, so Howard said he knows he already has ground to gain.

"He told me he had three sacks his first year," Howard said. "I had 1.5, so he's up on me, but I told him I'm behind two Pro Bowlers. That's a big difference. We'll see how it goes.

"Hopefully, next year I'll get some playing time behind those two guys and go from there."

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